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Sunday, August 3
Race's long road ends with rain
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- After everything Road America went through to put on a CART event this weekend, a rain-shortened race was the last thing the permanent road track needed.
"The race was disappointing at the very best," Road America president and general manager George Bruggenthies said.
Rain delayed the Mario Andretti Grand Prix for about 2½ hours and shortened it from 60 to 34 laps, leaving fans wet and frustrated by a race without much excitement.
"I don't really understand why the race wasn't restarted," Bruggenthies said. "It was a good, wet track condition."
It was an end to a weekend that neither CART nor Road America needed after years of falling attendance and a dispute that led to the race being canceled last winter.
It was Andretti who acted as the catalyst that brought Road America and the open-wheel racing body together to resolve their differences and put the race back on the Champ Car schedule in April.
Bruggenthies said the Sunday attendance was down about 40 percent from last year, although he did not give exact figures. Road America stood to lose money on the race, he added.
He blamed the poor attendance on the weather, the dispute with CART and competition from several other events, including NASCAR's Brickyard 400 and the Wisconsin State Fair in Milwaukee.
Bruggenthies praised Andretti for spending so much time at the track over the weekend, but said he didn't think the race would continue under the Andretti name.
"Mario's been a good friend of Road America," he said. "We're always going to have a good relationship with him."
Road America and CART are under contract to have another race next season, but Bruggenthies said the racing league must figure out a way to differentiate itself if it wants to survive.
"It can't continue like it's going," he said. "It needs something different."
Besides a photo shoot with several hundred fans, an autograph session and an appreciation party Saturday, Andretti started the race Sunday. He also drove a few laps in a pace car.
"He did a lot of things with the fans, more than what was scheduled," Bruggenthies said.
But he said his actions on the 11th lap proved him wrong.
Tracy, who had won five of the previous 11 races, lost his position atop the Champ Car standings after failing to finish Sunday. Tracy slid off the right side of the track on turn eight and hit a tire wall.
"I got on the brakes and locked on all four tires. I could not stop on the corner and I ran off the track," he said. "I'm disappointed because I had a good chance to score some points and did not."
Mario Andretti won the first race ever for Newman/Haas at the track in 1983. Cristiano da Matta won for the team last year. Road America has also been the team's best course.
Newman/Haas was founded by actor Paul Newman and entrepreneur Carl A. Haas. The two joined Junqueira and second-place Sebastien Bourdais in the winner's circle on Sunday.
On Sept. 21, 1986, the race was stopped after three laps because of rain. It was not finished until Oct. 4.
In 2001, when Bruno Junqueira won his first race at Road America, the race was stopped for 48 minutes so workers could divert heavy water runoff from the track between the 11th and 12th turns.